- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for March 12.

It is not only Tony Blair's political future that is imperiled by the Iraq crisis. The fates of the Dutch and Finnish governments also hang in the balance. In the Netherlands, the Christian Democrats and the Labor Party are trying to cobble together a center-left coalition government — and faltering over Iraq. Labor's leader, Wouter Bos, who says he identifies himself "much more with the French position," claims the formation of the new Dutch government will fail if the Christian Democrats back a U.S.-led attack on Iraq without support from the U.N. Security Council. The caretaker prime minister, Christian Democrat leader Jan-Peter Balkenende, wants to back Bush and Blair. But the opinion polls are against him, and so seems to be the diplomatic momentum at the United Nations. "We cannot form a cabinet with one party that backs war and the other that who opposes it," insists Bos.

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Finland goes to the polls Sunday, with the opposition and rural-based Center Party nosing ahead in opinion polls and threatening to defeat the incumbent social democrat, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen. The Center Party's Anneli Jaatteenmaki may become Finland's first female prime minister after Tuesday's final parliamentary debate saw a row over Lipponen's handling of the Iraq crisis. She put the prime minister on the spot, demanding how it was that President George Bush thanked Lipponen last December for "having joined the coalition," while Lipponen at the same time praised Bush for his leadership in forming the coalition. What was the real Finnish policy, she wanted to know. Should she believe Bush's claim that Finland was with him? Or should she believe Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, another Social Democrat, who claimed that all further action over Iraq should be carried out through the U.N. Security Council? Why had Finland not backed the Franco-German position, she demanded — and got the hapless response that Finland had not wanted to deepen the gaps within the European Union and the United Nations and thus had avoided taking sides. Lipponen could yet be saved in Sunday's election if the Conservative Party sticks with him in a new coalition — but thanks to the Iraq crisis, he faces an uphill struggle for re-election.

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Cairo's prestigious Al Azhar seminary, sponsored by the Egyptian government, has called ominously for holy war against the United States and its allies who take part in a war against Iraq. Monday's ruling said all Muslims are required by their religion to join the jihad once the United States attacks Baghdad. "The jihad against the crusader forces is a commandment on all Muslims should the foreign forces begin hostilities," Al Azhar's Supreme Council said. The ruling comes after months of cautious silence on Iraq by Al Azhar and its spiritual leader, Mohammed Sid Tantawi, one of the most influential figures in the Sunni Muslim world.

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Israeli communications monitor Michael Gurdus has reported that he intercepted U.S. Central Command orders relayed to U.S. fighter jets that the war against Iraq will begin Tuesday. Gurdus said in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 Television that the Pentagon refers to Iraq as "bad cows" and "kebab."

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While Washington dithers about how to deal with North Korea, Japan has accelerated its surveillance efforts over its neighbors. Japan's National Space Development Agency has completed its final checks for an upcoming launch of Japan's first two spy satellites scheduled for March 28, carrying out a cryogenic test for the domestically developed H-2A rocket that will carry the two spy satellites into orbit from NASDA's Tanegashima Space Center. One of the two satellites is equipped with an optical sensor and the other with radar. Unlike earlier launches, the government has kept the schedule and other details of this rocket launch secret and deployed more than 100 guards, twice the usual number. The upcoming satellite launches are categorized as "top secret."

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India has reacted furiously to a clampdown by Malaysian police against illegal immigrants that saw 270 Indian citizens, mainly working in Malaysia's booming information technology sector, rounded up in a police sweep in Kuala Lumpur Sunday. Some claim to have beaten and their passports and visas defaced. New Delhi has lodged a strong protest at the "high-handed and inhuman" treatment, adding "Such unacceptable action by the Malaysian authorities may adversely affect the bilateral relations and also badly dent Malaysia's image as a destination for IT professionals and as a country which is keen to encourage foreign participation in this and other sectors." Indian sources say Malaysia's top diplomat, High Commissioner Choo Siew Kioh, could be expelled over the row.

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One further reason for Vladimir Putin's caution — Russia's No. 2 car-maker could lose its best customer and kill off a Soviet icon if Iraq falls. GAZ has stopped production of its legendary Volga sedan, the car of all Soviet officials who failed to qualify for the Politburo-level ZIL limousine, except for 5,000 Volgas ordered from Baghdad's taxi fleet. The first consignment of 250 of the elderly but rugged Volgas is complete and due to leave the Nizhny-Novgorod factory on March 21 — by which time downtown Baghdad could be so much rubble. If the whole deal falls through, GAZ stands to lose up to $25 million.

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